I admit I didn’t know much about Iron Butt riding and the Iron But Rally until I spoke with Wendy Crockett, the 2019 Iron Butt Rally winner. The knowledge I gained was insightful, helpful, and nothing short of amazing. My respect for the Iron Butt competitors has grown by leaps and bounds. By the end of this interview, yours likely will too.
Wendy filled me in on the basics of Iron Butt riding, but I am left feeling that this was only the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much to Iron Butt riding that most people don’t know or even consider.
But I didn’t just learn about the Iron Butt Rally and Iron Butt riding; I learned a lot about Wendy. Wendy is not an ordinary rider. She’s a woman who takes so much joy from riding that sitting on her motorcycle for hours at a time and watching and feeling the world pass by is her zen.
It’s a delight to speak with her. She is smart, thoughtful, and willing to talk about anything you want to know about Iron Butt. During the two-hour interview process, time flew by. And, by the time we had finished, I felt like Wendy was a long-time friend.
Because there is so much to learn about Iron Butt riding, this interview will be presented in two parts. My guess is that by the time you finish reading the first part, you will be yearning to read the second. We’ll try not to make you wait long.
If you don’t know anything about the Iron Butt Rally, you may want to check out the Iron Butt Association’s Wikipedia page and read the section on the Iron Butt Rally.
About Wendy And Her Family
ADVRider: Wendy, were motorcycle’s part of your life from an early age?
Wendy Crockett (WC): No, I’m not from a motorcycle family. My parents weren’t particularly fond of motorcycles, they were more; tolerant of motorcycles. My mom is fearful of my safety.
But for some reason motorcycles always held appeal to me. I remember being in High School and most of my friends had boy band posters hanging in their rooms. But, I had a Harley catalog. That should tell you something.
AdvRider: If your parents were just tolerant of motorcycles, what motivated you to get into them?
WC: I can’t pinpoint it. There’s something different and something free about riding them. I’ve always wanted to ride a motorcycle more than a car, even just for transportation. Maybe it was the allure of being forbidden fruit.
ADVRider: I know you once had your own shop in California. Did you always live in California, and where do you live now?
WC: I have lived all over the country. I did have a shop and it was profitable and successful. I loved the community and the area. But the state of California made it very difficult to run. There were so many regulations to follow and too much paperwork to fill out. I’d work a full day and then spend hours filling out paperwork. It just became too difficult to run the shop.
For example, some of those regulations made it nearly impossible to get carb kits or exhaust parts. So people just went online and bought their own parts. California’s regulations really undermine California businesses sometimes.
But I moved and I now live in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I love it here, there’s lots of natural beauty.
ADVRider: So you had a shop. How did you get your motorcycle mechanical skills?
WC: I went to MMI (Motorcycle Mechanics Institute) and took about everything they offered. It was hard work and it took about 2.5 years, but it was worth it.
ADVRider: So where do you work now?
WC: I’m a mechanic at Sturgis Motorsports in Sturgis. (South Dakota).
ADVRider: What does your immediate family think about your motorcycle-oriented life?
WC: My husband is my biggest cheerleader and he thinks we are all lunatics. He supports everything I do.
My daughter loves motorcycles and is just getting old enough to understand what I do. When I won the Iron Butt Rally, she asked me whether I had won the big trophy. She makes sures that everyone knows that I am not in a race, I’m in a rally!
The Start Of Long Distance Riding
ADVRider: What started you in long-distance riding?
WC: I found that I really enjoy long distances and just love to be on the bike. For example, I’d would go on a weeklong road trip and come back with only 3 pictures. I just didn’t want to stop.
After a while, I learned that I could just keep going. It is just the pure joy of the ride. Only after I’d been riding long distances for a while did I discover Iron Butt riding.
ADVRider: Do you see yourself as a competitive person?
WC: No, not to an extreme degree. Iron Butt riding is more about competing against yourself. You just want to see if you can do it, and then see if you can do it faster.
ADVRider: So was the Iron Butt Rally your first long-distance rally?
WC: Yes, my first long distance rally was the 2009 Iron Butt Rally. Since then, I’ve done many other shorter regional rallies along with bigger nationwide events like the 10 ‘n 10, where I took 2nd place in two consecutive events.
ADVRider: Have you participated in other types of two-wheeled competition?
WC: No, not really, I’ve never done anything like enduro or hare scrambles and the like.
Looking For A Donor
ADVRider: Wendy, let’s get off track a little bit and talk about another of your family members. I understand that your mom is battling kidney disease and needs a kidney. If there’s someone out there that was willing to donate, what would be the best way to get in touch with you?
WC: Probably through Facebook Messenger: Wendy Crockett. They can also private message me, Bionic Pelvis on ADVRider’s forum.
ADVRider: Is there anything special a potential donor should know beforehand?
WC: No, there are fewer limitations today than in year’s past. Even if the person is not a blood type match, they can get into a donation chain where one donor donates to someone else who has someone who can donate to the person you want.
The Iron Butt Rally (IBR)
ADVRider: So you’ve told us about yourself, let’s talk about the Iron Butt Rally. What is it, and how does someone win?
WC: Basically, it’s a nationwide scavenger hunt. The tagline for the rally is 11 days, 11,000 miles. But the reality is that at the start, each rider is given a “rally pack”. It tells the rider where the rally’s checkpoints are and when they must be there.
The rally pack also gives you a list of bonus locations. A bonus location is a place you have to visit to get something or do something. Once you complete a bonus location, you get points.
Each rider checks the bonus locations and tries to determine the best way to accomplish their goals. If you really want to win, you choose bonus locations that will give you the maximum number of points regardless of where the bonus location takes you.
It’s not the miles that are important, its the amount of points you gather. Some riders finish an IBR with 8-8,500 miles and the most ever covered by a winner was more than 14,000 miles. I finished this year with nearly 13,000 miles in 11 days which was the second highest number of miles ridden by an IBR competitor.
Still, it’s not the mileage, its the points. If you craft a good strategy, you can have lower mileage and still have a high points total. There’s a lot of strategy, it’s really a dynamic game.
Iron Butt Rally Preparation
ADVRider: I imagine that being an Iron Butt Rally competitor is very physically challenging. Do you do any physical training for long-distance riding?
WC: I do a lot of hiking. I walk 9 miles almost every morning. I also do core strength and stamina training. Anything to diminish how much work you are asking your body to do. The more fit you are, the less fatigue and pain. Being in shape lets you better assess the level of pain.
ADVRider: You told us earlier that there was a lot of strategy for determining your route and bonus points locations. Do you use a particular approach when planning your route?
WC: It really depends on the event. Strategy changes each year. I consider the theme of the rally, this year the IBR’s theme “Roads Less Traveled”, and where the bonus locations were.
I saw some were pretty straight shots, but were full of bottlenecks which would eat up a lot of time. So I rode some pretty big miles to connect a small handful of high point value locations that were relatively accessible. This year’s key was to really limit the bottlenecks.
I pretty much stayed out of California traffic and places with bottlenecks. Even though there may have been linked bonus locations with shorter distances and bonus multipliers, I knew that getting them all in time would be very difficult.
ADVRider: So can you plan your strategy for the entire event in one session?
WC: It varies by event. Sometimes the Iron Butt Association organizers will give you all the checkpoints and locations up front. This year, we only got the first leg (there are 3 legs) prior to the start. Then the we got the 2nd and 3rd legs together.
ADVRider: Do most riders take similar approaches to scoring points?
WC: No. Some want to get started quickly and only look at the first few points locations. I like to look at the big picture when I am planning my route. I want to consider the best way to score points with all the information I am given.
ADVRider: Can an Iron Butt competitor just ride to bonus locations at any time?
WC: No, there are checkpoints. There are also time windows you have to be in certain places. If you are late, there is a two hour penalty window where points are deducted. If you go beyond the window, you are then time barred.
Iron Butt Rally Equipment
ADVRider: What kind of bikes do you see running in an IBR?
WC: Mostly sport tourers. BMW machines are the most common sport tourers due to the sheer number of them. There are also Honda Goldwings and Yamaha FJRs. This year that was also a KTM 1190 and a KLR.
There are often a handful of cruisers and some “Hopeless Class Bikes”. One time a guy rode a Ninja 300; another rode a Suzuki Water Buffalo. One even rode a Honda Silverwing scooter.
ADVRider: What about riding gear? Is there a particular type of equipment that you use?
WC: I ride with First Gear outer garments. I like the Kathmandu jacket and Kilimanjro jacket. They have really giant vents and waterproof zippers. I like them alot.
ADVRider: What kind of bike did you use when you won this year’s IBR?
WC: I rode a 2005 Yamaha FJR 1300.
ADVRider: Did you make any modifications to the bike to help you compete?
WC: Yes, I did a few things. I added an auxiliary fuel tank and mounted it where the passenger seat would be. It gives me about 11 gallons total capacity. So when they are full, I can average about 375 miles between fuel stops.
I also added a Russell Day Long seat which I love. It was made specifically for me. I ride a little kittycorner because of a crash where I broke my pelvis. That’s where I get my ADVRider name; Bionic Pelvis.
I’ve also added, auxiliary lighting, and a VStream windshield. For electronics I have two GPSs and my phone for some entertainment. They are hooked up to a Neutrino fuse block. It gives you good on the fly adjustabilityif you have added anything electrical.
I also have a Garmin InReach and electronic toll passes.
ADVRider: Speaking of auxiliary lighting, do you ride at night during the competition? Is it better to minimize or maximize night riding? Are there any extra precautions you need to take when riding at night?
WC: Well, I really enjoy riding at night. I don’t take any extra precautions and I am aware that there are more drunk drivers and a higher possibilty of animal strikes at night.
But I like to travel at night because there’s less traffic, its cooler and I find it relaxing.
ADVRider: What percentage do you say you ride at night?
WC: It’s hard to say. Sometimes I’m riding in areas that don’t have 50%/50% day to night. When I was in Alaska it was light much more than it was dark.
Sometimes, I’ll stop during the day and pick up a rest bonus. I once stopped in Kingman, AZ, got a hotel room for a while and when I got back on the bike, it was cooler and there was much less traffic.
ADVRider: Fatigue has to be one of the most significant challenges for an IBR competitor. How do you try to mitigate the effects of fatigue during the competition? Do you have a particular diet that you stick to when competing?
WC: Yes, I take diet and hydration very seriously. Diet has been huge. When I started long distance riding, I just grabbed fast food or a candy bar. But I found I had a huge problem chasing sugar crashes. The ups and downs made it really hard to tell whether my body was really tired or just coming down from a sugar high. Especially if you don’t usually eat that way.
So I pack all the food I need on the bike for all the time I am on the bike competing. I try not to buy anything to eat other than what I took with me. This IBR, I only bought one item, a chicken wrap in a restaurant because I decided that I could take a quick nap while there!
Other than that, I eat low salt nuts, turkey jerky, dried unsweetened fruit and Justin’s Nut Butter. I don’t bring any garbage food, just those with real simple ingredients.
That’s all I eat other than at checkpoints and even there, I stay with lean proteins and avoid junk food. It keeps me from chasing sugar crashes and helps me assess when I am really tired. It’s been a huge impact!
ADVRider: You said you take hydration seriously as well. How do you handle hydration?
WC: I have two linked hydration jugs on the bike. They are usually just filled with water. Sometimes I will disconnect one of the jugs and fill it with Sportea. It’s an electrolyte replenishing herbal tea. It has no sugar and no caffiene. I try to drink lots but not overhydrate.
ADVRider: Do you have a “nutrition schedule” of when to eat, or do you eat when you are hungry?
WC: It’s a fine line. Sometimes mindless snacking gives you something to do and keeps you focused.
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll get inside the Iron Butt Rally and discuss what it takes to compete and win. If you’d like to follow Wendy, you can do so on Facebook and her blog, Third Wheel Adventures. She’s headed off to South America shortly so feel free to tag along.
All photo credit: Wendy Crockett